ARCHIVED – Speaking notes for the Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism at the 6th Annual Internationally Educated Professionals’ Conference

Metro Toronto Convention Centre
Toronto, Ontario
February 20, 2009

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Good afternoon. Thank you so much. It is a real pleasure to be here at the PCPI’s Internationally Educated Professionals Conference.

I’m very proud to be here on behalf of the Government of Canada and my ministry, Citizenship and Immigration Canada as well as our Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, to commend everyone who is participating in this important initiative to find pathways to prosperity for new Canadians.

In Canada, we can be very proud of the fact that we have, through all of our history, maintained a tradition of openness to newcomers from around the world. In fact we have traditionally maintained the highest relative level of immigration of any major developed country in the world.

That, of course, presents tremendous opportunities. It also creates certain challenges – and you are facing some of those challenges – to ensure that people who come to Canada with degrees and with considerable professional and technical experience are able to enter the circle of prosperity and not stand on the sidelines.

I’m here today to tell you that the Government of Canada is committed to being a partner in that process of ensuring a future of prosperity for new Canadians, particularly those who have often left behind tremendous opportunities in their home countries in order to take a risk and come here to contribute to building Canada.

In that respect, I’m very pleased to announce today that according to preliminary data, which we are releasing right now, we welcomed an unprecedented 519,722 newcomers to Canada in 2008 – the largest number in Canada’s history. This number includes over 247,000 permanent residents, 193,000 temporary foreign workers and over 79,000 foreign students.

And I’m also pleased to confirm that thanks to changes adopted by our government last year through the creation of the first new category of permanent residency in a generation called the Canadian Experience Class, many thousands of those temporary workers and foreign students now have a pathway to permanent residency here in Canada.

In fact, we just launched the Canadian Experience Class late in 2008 and we are beginning to process applications this week, the very first applications under the Canadian Experience Class.

I’m also pleased to tell you that the Prime Minister has asked me to work with our partners and friends in the provincial governments in the Canadian educational sector to substantially increase the number of qualified foreign students coming to Canada.

We believe that if those people have an opportunity to take their degrees in Canada, to improve in some cases their language skills, and to begin to better understand the labour market in this country while attending university, they will have much faster pathways to integration than if they were obliged to leave the country, apply for permanent residency, and wait in the queue for several years before coming back. And this has been the system for students until now.

Now let me tell you that our government is taking concrete measures to more closely align our immigration system with Canada’s economy. First of all, we all know that in 2009 we are going to be facing a period of real economic difficulty.

Canada is being affected by the global economic recession which began in the United States early last year. Thankfully, we’re going into this downturn later than other developed countries and we’re not going into it as deeply as other countries. We just heard President Obama in Ottawa yesterday commending Canada for the stability of our financial institutions and for our strong economic management.

I was in Britain earlier this week and we heard Prime Minister Brown making similar remarks about the relative strength of Canada. The International Monetary Fund has said that we have the strongest banking sector in the developed world and the World Bank has said that Canada should come out of this global downturn faster and more strongly than any other developed country. So that’s the good news.

The bad news is that we will see, as we are every week, job losses. We will see difficulty in our economy. And in that environment, many governments elsewhere have chosen to close the door on immigration, to say that immigration represents some kind of a threat to our economy. But our government believes differently. We believe that immigration represents an opportunity for our economy and represents the fuel of our future growth.

In fact that is why I announced in December, and I am reconfirming today, that our government is planning to receive between 240,000 and 265,000 permanent residents through the skilled foreign worker program in the year 2009, maintaining our historic high levels of immigration.

Now the challenge for all of us is to ensure that those newcomers don’t come here and end up in the unemployment queue but in fact end up moving towards gainful employment. And an important part of that is to make modifications in our immigration system so that it is more closely aligned to our economic requirements and to our labour market needs.

That’s one of the reasons why we’ve seen a significant increase, for instance, in the temporary foreign worker program in the past year or two, because there were hundreds of thousands of jobs in regions and industries of this country going unfilled by Canadian citizens and permanent residents. This is a program that is tied to the need for labour in our economy and so every temporary worker that arrives here is taking a position that no Canadian applied for and which would, if left unfilled, jeopardize the future of a business.

I’ll never forget a constituent visiting me a couple of years ago, a man of Pakistani origin who came to Canada, a tremendous, typical immigrant success story. He took his life’s savings, started a small business, and ended up owning two Subway store franchises. He came to my office and broke down in tears because he said that he and his wife were almost single handedly running these two seven-day-a-week businesses and the stress on them and their family was intolerable and I could see that on his face. And he said we desperately need the help of temporary workers because we can’t find any Canadians, in this case in Calgary, to take these jobs.

And so our expansion of the program has allowed gentlemen like him and his wife to find employees to continue to grow their business and our Canadian Experience Class, as I’ve said, will allow many more skilled temporary workers a pathway to permanent residency.

Similarly, we’ve seen a significant expansion in the Provincial Nominee Programs. In many provinces, individuals who come to Canada are doing so with a solid job offer; their access to Canada is on a fast-track basis and they have a pathway directly into permanent residency.

And finally our government took important steps last year to adopt our Action Plan for Faster Immigration, because over the course of the 1990s and a better part of this decade we saw a massive increase in the queue for skilled foreign workers. It went under 20,000 files in 1993 to nearly 700,000 applications for permanent residency under our point system.

I suspect there are quite a few of you in this room who had to wait four or five years or even longer simply to get an answer from my ministry’s offices overseas about your application as a federal skilled worker.

Well, I’m pleased to tell you that as a result of our Action Plan, we have been able to turn the corner on that. I’m pleased to confirm today that in 2009 for the first year in nearly a generation we will see the waiting list for skilled foreign workers go down rather than up. And we will see the waiting times and the processing times go down rather than increasing.

In fact, in 2009 we have already cut the waiting list for federal skilled workers by 15 percent. This is an important step forward to speed up immigration to Canada and to more closely align it with our labour market.

We’ve identified, after consulting with the provinces, industry, and professional associations, 38 priority occupations that will be fast-tracked for permanent residency to Canada. This means people who fall within those occupations will be getting answers on their application in between six and 12 months rather than four to six years. So we are making important progress.

But I also want to acknowledge we must do so much more for people before they arrive in Canada to have their credentials recognized and to move into that circle of prosperity.

And that’s why, on January 16th at a First Ministers Meeting our Prime Minister acted decisively to create a national agreement with all 10 provincial premiers for a national framework for foreign credential recognition.

And we’re putting our money where our mouth is, adding $50 million in last month’s budget to support the creation of that national framework for credential recognition. We’ll be working with the provinces and through them with the professional associations to see that newcomers can get clear information and a clear understanding of how to get an answer on their application for credential recognition.

Twenty percent of economic migrants to this country fall within those regulated professions. We all know the tragedy of so many people, perhaps some of you, who have arrived in this country with the hope and promise of working in your chosen profession and have ended up working in survival jobs or being underemployed with relation to your skill level. That is intolerable. Those days must end.

We can never guarantee that a hundred percent of immigrants will have their credentials recognized by the relevant professional agency. These agencies have a job to do as well to protect the safety and security of Canadians and the integrity of their professions. And so they can never guarantee a hundred percent acceptance rate. But what they must do, what they should do is provide a fair and rapid answer to people when they apply.

That’s one of the reasons that we’ve created, at the federal level, the Foreign Credential Referral Office which funds, amongst other things, the Working in Canada web portal to give newcomers – even before they arrive here – clear information on how all the different professional associations work and what they require right across the country.

This is so that an engineer who’s been selected as a skilled worker in Islamabad can go on the Working in Canada Portal and see whether it’s easier to become an engineer in Nova Scotia or in British Columbia; so that a medical doctor from Africa can see what the requirements are in the different provinces.

Hopefully if these professionals require any additional education or documentary evidence, they can begin sourcing that in their country before coming to Canada and also hopefully they can apply online as quick – to begin the process before they arrive in Canada. We want to stop the situation where people touch down at our airports and then spend the next two or three years working through red tape and bureaucracy while working survival jobs just to get an answer on their credential recognition.

That’s also why we’ve created the Canadian Immigration Integration Project with three pilot offices overseas — one in India, one in China and one in the Philippines. Please tell your friends about this if you know anyone who is in the queue as federal skilled workers. We want a higher uptake on this program.

Under this program, anyone who is selected for permanent residency from one of those three countries is now getting a letter saying you can get a free two-day seminar and private, custom-tailored advice on integration issues including credential recognition in our office in Delhi, Manila or Guangzhou. That’s good news, isn’t it? The bad news is we don’t have enough customers yet for this free service so we need to improve that.

I visited our program in New Delhi and I was excited to meet people who are waiting. They’re just waiting for their medical and their security checks so there’s that period of a few months before they land in Canada. They came in. They had an interview with the Canadian-based officer on — you know, where do you plan to go, what kind of industry are you thinking of working in? They give tailor-made advice and then they sit through a two-day interactive seminar on all the big integration issues. How do you get a health card? How do you get ID? How do you get your kids enrolled in school? What about the climate? So they can ask all those questions before arriving here. Because many people don’t actually have the immediate family support network when they arrive.

So we’re offering that service and I’m pleased to tell you that in 2009 we will be expanding this seminar offered through the Canadian Immigration Integration Project to other centres across the world.

Also we are offering advice through 546 Service Canada Centres across the world on credential recognition. These things all together demonstrate real federal leadership on credential recognition. But at the end of the day, we don’t have a magic wand to wave and suddenly have the problem resolved – because it is a matter of provincial jurisdiction.

I know when I say this to newcomers they roll their eyes, like, well, you’re the ministry that brought us here on the basis of our degrees and our experience. And now you’re telling us talk to these professional agencies. That is the way it is.

So I’m very hopeful that this year the provinces, working with the professional agencies and the federal government, will come to this agreement and also we will have by 2011, based on an agreement led by the Prime Minister in January, a national open labour market so that a dental technician in Nova Scotia will be able to move to Manitoba and practice; so that a medical doctor recognized in Ontario will be able to go to Quebec and practice without waiting through months or years of red tape and bureaucracy in order to do so.

I also recognize that we need to do more in terms of helping people with the practical challenges of integration, in terms of settlement. That’s why our government has increased the federal investment in settlement programming by four times – up to a $1.4 billion increase. That’s money that’s going into the settlement agencies in Toronto and around the country to provide language training program, bridge to work programs, mentorship programs, language assessment services and the rest.

And here again one thing I want to ask you to do in this room is, please, when you meet newcomers, let them know about these services. We are offering, for the first time ever in Canada on a national basis, free language assessment and language training services for newcomers because we want to speed up their integration in Canada. But you know what? Only 20 percent of new Canadians are actually taking up and using these services. And I know there’s a larger number that could benefit from these programs. So, please, help us, help my ministry, help our government to advertise the availability of these programs through the settlement sector. I can also tell you we’ll be making some exciting announcements about how to improve access and responsiveness to the consumer demand for settlement services amongst new Canadians.

Finally, I can tell you that I’m also responsible for the multiculturalism program. That’s an important part of Canada’s identity – our embrace of diversity, our respect for pluralism. But, you know, I would say that for too long we’ve focussed on superficial things like celebrating our differences. We don’t need to celebrate our differences. We accept our differences already in this country. We’ve got all these great robust cultural communities that present to Canada the best of the world. We don’t need a government program. That stuff happens naturally and spontaneously.

I believe that the future for multiculturalism, a successful multiculturalism, must lie in focussing on successful integration and social cohesion. I want a multiculturalism that doesn’t end up with a bunch of what they call in Britain parallel communities or silos. I want a multiculturalism that leads towards a social cohesion where we can all be proud of our cultures and heritage but also come together as Canadians and take down those barriers to successful integration, like credential recognition, like the language barriers that sometimes exist.

And that’s why I’ve changed the focus and priorities of the multiculturalism program to focus on challenges of integration, to help young kids who are perhaps in at-risk situations to avoid getting into trouble, and to build bridges between communities. I don’t want to live in a Canada where a kid who immigrates here from the Punjab never really gets to know a kid who’s immigrated from China. I don’t want to live in a Canada where a young Persian immigrant feels somehow estranged from a young old stock Canadian kid. I want them all to feel like they are equally Canadian.

And, in closing, I have to say I was in Ottawa yesterday and when we speak about equality of opportunity in this country we can all feel inspiration. This is Black History Month. Yesterday we saw the amazing sight of the first black President of the United States stepping off the plane and being greeted by our Governor General Michaëlle Jean. Now that says to young people, to the children of immigrants that yes there are challenges, yes there may be obstacles to integration, but this is a place where we do have true equality of opportunity.

With that as our common vision, let’s work together with this tremendous organization now and in the future to continue to make sure that Canada truly is a land for equality of opportunity for all who arrive in our shores.

Thank you very much

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